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On Movies: 'The Guard' is a droll, entertaining buddy movie

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 18, 2011 - I'm a sucker for "unlikely buddy" movies, and "The Guard" is a good one. It begins with a bang - well, actually a crash - and for a few moments you think you are in for an hour and 35 minutes of punk filmmaking, loud and fast and violent and cut up like a corpse. But then an over-weight, middle-aged Irish cop (Brendan Gleeson) does something unexpected and droll, and you realize you are going to be entertained rather than assaulted.

Not that there aren't moments of violence in "The Guard," as befits a crime comedy, but the true focus of the story is on the mostly combative relationship between Irish detective sergeant Gerry Boyle (Gleeson), who is full of sass and malarkey and is guided in moments of temptation by situational ethics, and buttoned-up FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle), who plays by the rules.

Everett and his fellow Feds have invaded Boyle's Irish coastal town in search of a trio of Nietzsche-quoting killers who are waiting for a boat holding $500 million worth of cocaine. Everett is a decent guy but he takes himself and the Bureau a little too seriously for Boyle, who tries to bring the man down a peg or two with racially tinged humor and the occasional snide reference to the disastrous 1993 FBI siege at Waco, Texas. Everett is pretty much appalled by Boyle, but he comes to realize he is a very good cop and a wiseass rather than a racist. Eventually, they are able to work together against the dope smugglers, who by then have murdered a young local policeman Boyle was fond of.

John Michael McDonagh, known heretofore as a screenwriter ("Ned Kelly"), wrote and directed "The Guard." The script is clever and witty, and, for a first-time director, McDonagh is notably successful in keeping several balls in the air at the same time, including a touching subplot involving Boyle's dying mother - you can see where Boyle got his mordant sense of humor. McDonagh's direction is fluid and fleet without being hasty, and he has an artist's eye. I eagerly await his next movie.

Harper Barnes, the author of Never Been A Time: The 1917 Race Riot That Sparked The Civil Rights Movement, is a special contributor to the Beacon. 

Harper Barnes
Harper Barnes' most recent book is Never Been A Time: The 1917 Race Riot That Sparked The Civil Rights Movement

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